Dan Mlnarik ’93 spent more than 10 years helping award University of Nebraska–Lincoln-bound high school students with scholarships. He found this volunteer effort through the Optimist Club meaningful as he worked with people trying to qualify to buy a home with large college debt as a managing broker at Home Real Estate in Lincoln.
“When I went to school, there was the opportunity to pay (the full amount) as you go and work your way through college. That’s more difficult now so scholarships are paramount,” Mlnarik said, who found his own creative way to pay for college.
Mlnarik, a business administration major who played guitar, partnered with his brother, Dave, who was attending the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at Nebraska. They started a band called Full Choke with the purpose of earning money for college. The Clearwater, Nebraska, natives credit their musical genes to both sides of the family, specifically their grandfather, who had his own big band.
“When I got to college, my brother and I found ourselves with some free time and started playing music. Once we connected with a drummer, we eventually started to venture out in public. Dave took the bull by the horns and served as our main marketing person to get our band’s name out there,“ Dan said.
The band started in 1990 and they played 70-90 nights a year in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. In 1993, they cut their first CD in Lincoln and in 1998, and they recorded their second CD in Nashville. They also found themselves performing as the opening act at concerts for Trisha Yearwood and other headliners.
Their innovative way to pay for college kept growing until 2001. The band life took a backseat as their families grew and their full-time jobs expanded.
“It was a ton of work but the fun times and relationships built have been absolutely amazing, even to this day, and it allowed us to pay for college,” Dan said.
Today they still play as Full Choke a few times annually across the state. Their second band, Spare Change – formed to both scratch the itch of needing to perform and provide extra money, performs monthly in and around Lincoln as well.
“Today, I have more fun playing music than ever. It’s a different stage in life and music is a great way for me to relax with great friends and do something that people still seem to enjoy,” Dan said.
Married to wife, Salissa, they have four children: Sydney, 20; Nolan, 17; Aleyna, 15; and Lucas, 11.
The cycle also continues as Dan passed on the musical gene to his oldest child. Sydney plays fiddle and adds vocals to the Mlnarik bands while attending college.
“Sydney has a real musical gift and being able to perform with her is really special. Each of my kids have their own unique things that I get to do with them. For Sydney, it is music and it is awesome.”
Working in real estate for 22 years, Dan said, “The College of Business opened my eyes to the fact that there can be more than one way to succeed at any given endeavor. Learning how to build relationships and be open to other perspectives has helped me greatly in all aspects of my life. During the capstone marketing class my senior year, our project work brought all the previous coursework together in a real-world application. It gave me confidence and I knew I was prepared for whatever was next, without knowing what that would be yet.”